In a somewhat morbid coincidence, Friday night’s TCU-Siena extra-inning stranglefest came on the fifth anniversary of the longest baseball game in NCAA history.
On May 30, 2009, the Texas Longhorns defeated Boston College 3-2 in 25 innings in a game that consumed exactly seven hours and three minutes.
So there was that hovering in the air Friday as the Horned Frogs and the defiant Saints, with their 26-31 record, threatened to play long into the night.
This happens, of course, in the randomness of the regional round of the NCAA baseball tournament. No matter the seedings, no matter the conference pedigree, an underdog can arrive at the first round armed with one pitcher who doesn’t care about the rankings or the opponent’s sold-out crowd yelling in his ears.
Siena’s troublemaker Friday was left-hander Matt Gage, who frustrated the Frogs for nine innings — 129 pitches — and refused to fold.
Long into the night, TCU left fielder Boomer White finally decided things in the 11th inning with a run-scoring single off Siena reliever Matt Quintana.
Otherwise, who knows? The Frogs left 14 men on base and were held scoreless by the Saints for 10 full innings.
Their futility with men in scoring position almost spoiled a dazzling performance by TCU starter Brandon Finnegan, who pitched 7 1/3 innings, struck out 12 and allowed only four hits.
Gage himself was no fluke. He made the Metro Atlantic all-conference team in 2012 and was an all-star in the Cape Cod summer league. His stats this season — a 4-7 record and a 4.81 earned run average — suggest a drop-off, of sorts.
But as can happen in the NCAA tournament, class will rise to the top. The Frogs were 2-for-12 against Gage with runners in scoring position.
To claw into the winner’s bracket, TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle had to use his all-Big 12 relief closer, Riley Ferrell, for two-plus innings.
A No. 1 seed, however, has to do what it has to do. The Frogs survived a first-day defeat in the College Station Regional two years ago, but the path isn’t advisable.
That historic 25-inning game is a good example. Longhorns coach Augie Garrido used his best reliever, Austin Wood, for 13 innings that night, and Wood was never the same pitcher after that.
White’s line single into center field in the 11th inning Friday spared the audience another three hours or so. It came after Cody Jones and Derek Odell had coaxed Quintana for walks.
Once upon a time, when college hitters played with real bats instead of hollow substitutes, the possibility of an electric, game-ending home run was always there.
These days, though, you can forget that. Lupton Stadium gives up home runs like they were golden anvils. The Frogs had to resort to, well, TCU baseball — scratch-scratch, steal a base, hope for the best.
High praise is in order for coach Tony Rossi and his Siena team, whose 26-31 pre-tourney record belies the fact that the Saints played 46 games away from home this season. Good grief.
No wonder they lost 17 in a row to start the season. The Saints gained momentum and won their conference tournament, earning them the Fort Worth Regional’s No. 4 seed.
Which meant nothing Friday night. When you have the pitching, the seedings, the rankings and the home crowds don’t always matter.
The Frogs’ reward is another night game Saturday and a full night’s sleep.
Judging from the bats Friday, they need it.